Women in Red
As with many similar professions, the ski patrol industry tends to be primarily dominated by men. That’s not to say that there aren’t some incredibly strong and talented women who also play a critical role in keeping the mountain safe though. Laura Hudecek is one of these women.
Originally from Washington D.C., Laura started at Solitude Mountain Resort nine years ago, and began patrolling in the last two and a half. “I really like the medical aspect, but I can’t work in an ambulance because I get super carsick. I also really like working outdoors and helping people. Patrolling is where all those things intersect,” she said reflecting on what drew her to becoming a patroller.
From the outside to those with an affinity for alpine environments, ski patrolling looks like the perfect job. The reality of it though involves long hours in harsh environments, strenuous physical effort, for often minimal pay. While skiing ability is an obvious pre-requisite, that alone doesn’t make a good patroller. Other attributes, including leadership, teamwork, and communication skills are critical.
“Our motto is team before self,” said Laura, “We’re part of a unit that has to work together, and care for one another. We also have fun together too! That is my favorite aspect of the job.”
With a current crew of 23 full time, and 7 part time staff, the Solitude ski patrol team is a close-knit community. The family aspect is a very obvious part, where people feel comfortable to share how they’re doing and when to ask for help if needed. “Our dependency with each other reaches beyond work,” said Laura.
As Solitude’s only female patroller, Laura has faced a series of extra challenges on top of an already demanding occupation. “Jobs like this tend to have more men in them; philosophically that’s challenging,” she noted, “Women working in male dominated jobs can be pretty hard on themselves. It’s easy to feel like you’re the representative for the whole gender, so when you mess up, all women mess up. I’ve had to develop a different mental attitude in that regard.”
Fortunately, more women are entering the ski patrol community today than ever before, with an overall shift in the outdoor industry as a whole.
“We need to continue to ask the outdoor community in general how we can be more inclusive,” said Laura, “Women tend to have a different approach or style to solving a problem or communicating, which can be invaluable in certain situations.”
During Summer seasons, Laura also coaches leadership courses with the National Outdoor Leadership School. “If I wasn’t doing that or ski patrol,” she said, “I’d be in the circus for sure!”